Original Bengali: Arindom Basu
This short story was published in Bengali in the 'Anandabazar Patrika', Shaarodiya Edition in 2003. This English translation is carried out by me.
As he approached the Aadarsh Hotel, sweet smell of fresh rice entered his nose Anand Das stood up.
Standing on the footpath is the big tin menu-board. Anand put his hands on his knees, bent his loins and was watching the dishes that are available. Meat-Rice for Rs. 20, Egg-Rice for Rs. 10, Vegetable-Rice for Rs. 8. The light of the Mid-October sun was falling on his dirty punjaabi. As he stood up a ray of the light placed itself on the Sealdah road.
Now it was not only the smell of rice but also that of spiced dal, vegetable soup and cooked fish that mixed the air on the footpath. Anand took a long breath so that the sweet smell reaches his stomach through his throat. At the same time a beat entered his ears.
Nak Jhina Jhin Nak Jhina Jhin Nakt Nakur jhina… Nakur Nakur Jhina… Nak Jhina Jhin Nak Jhina Jhin Nakt Nakur jhina…
“Hey, Hey! Old man- What is here?? Why are you standing here?”
Anand looked through the scratched glasses of his spectacles. There was somebody standing on the steps to the Hotel. The man was wearing a Lungee and a shirt. Behind the man’s back Anand could see some people eating rice seated in long rows of benches and tables.
The man repeated-“ You’ll get nothing standing here. Move on.”
Anand Das gave a wide smile. Many of his teeth were missing. Between the columns of some yellowish teeth one could see his tongue. On his lined face stuck out sharp white beard. He understood and came to the road. He started walking on his choppol made from tyres. The beating sound had stopped by now.
The tram moved with a loud buzz between the old houses and crossed the cinema-hall. Buses, taxis and autos also kept moving, some almost pushing him. Anand crossed pan shops, saree merchants, hospital and the fruit vendor on the footpath and kept walking. His leg form could be seen from the tuck of his loin-cloth.
Anand Das reached a colony. The shadow of one house blended with others there. Anand found the door of a well established house open and entered. The stairs were dark and besides his eyesight was not good- still he climbed upstairs.
“What happened? Whom do you need?” A dark skinned woman wrapped in a saree questioned him with unpleasantly.
“I beat drums. Drummer.”
“Drummer.. Drums!! Then, why and what for did you come here? There is no puja here. Above all the Durga Puja is over.”
“I know. Nobody hired me this year. Only two months to go for my daughter’s marriage. I have nothing in my hands. Poor man.. I’ll do whatever I can collect by begging. I want to sit for sometime here.” As soon as he finished he sat down on the stairs holding the iron-bars.
“How old is your daughter?”
“By the end of this month she will be seventeen.” Anand lifted his eyes up.
“O my God! What do I hear!! Marriage before eighteen!!”
Anand laughed. “That happens in your city. We are villagers- early is better. The boy works in a shoe-shop. Salary is Rs. 2000 and also he has a cycle. I thought I will collect some money for his ring and my daughter’s ear-rings by beating drums. But… I kept roaming in Sealdah. Passed the Shosthi-Soptomi doing nothing.”
“Okay, sit here- I am coming”- saying this she turned the printed cloth on the door and went it. She returned after a little time and put out a five rupee note. He took the note, touched his forehead, and murmured something.
“How much can you collect this way?”
“Whatever I can... I eat on son’s earning. Just hoping to get out someway or the other.”
“Some drummers also visit houses in colonies after puja and beat drums. Why don’t you collect a little that way?”
“They have Kaanshi, Kortaal… What will I roam alone with only a heavy drum over my back! I have nobody with me.” Saying this Anand started standing.
“Wait, sit a little. Will you eat rice? Yesterday’s rice- you can have with potato soup.” While she was speaking a little girl of five or six years came and stood near the door.
“Who is he, mother?”
“He is a drummer. He beats drum.”
“Where is his drum, mother? Yes, where is it?”
“He has left it behind at his home. His has pain on his backs, so. Go, you go inside. What, shall I serve the rice?”
Anand mixed the rice with the potato and papaya soup and started eating happily. The bowl of Moori that he put in the mouth in the morning has nothing left in him by now. “Can I have a little sugar, please?” Saliva rolled out from his mouth. He could again hear a beat in his ears- the one drummers beat while ending the puja- a sign of respect.
JheJhJhenaJhen JheJhJhenaJhen NakJhenaJhen Jhena… JheJhJhenaJhen JheJhJhenaJhen NakJhenaJhen Jhena… JheJhJhenaJhen JheJhJhenaJhen NakJhenaJhen Jhena…
As soon he feels the drum beat in his ears, Anand starts shaking a little. He remembers Aalpona’s face. “Surely she is sitting and eating rice with Kolomi Shaak. Did the boy return home? God knows. I kept his name Sadhon, but there is no sign of meditation in him!!”- a thought ran in his mind.
Anand lifted the glass and drank a little water quickly. He thought- “ Some houses hand only a few paisas. This household is good. I should fill my stomach well. I’ll have to walk till the evening.”
Kalikaapur, Chakbede, Ghotokpukur- all the buses that move between are always ‘Moorir Tin’. And to all to the description, the driver sometimes put a sharp brake, shuffling and shaking everybody inside like ‘Moori’.The driver often does this to create some space near the door as a man filling a ‘Moorir Tin’ does. Anand traverses in such a bus and reached Korunara. His palms-feet, hair, spectacle glass- everything had a layer of city dust on it..
to be continued...